Friday, 25 February 2022

The Alleged Problems with Interactive Substance Dualism

I read the following blog post  Arguments Against Mind-Body/Substance Dualism and Responses.  I typed out a response which I posted in my facebook group here  and also as a comment below his blog post.  Unfortunately, despite apparently being sympathetic to dualism, the author didn't accept it.  Normally it is those who subscribe to materialism that refuse to publish my comments! (One example is here).   I reproduce my comment below without alteration. 

All these arguments are ridiculous.

1. Damaged brains lead to damaged minds.

Churchland claims this “comes close to being an outright refutation of (substance) dualism.”

Obviously we can think of many examples where A affects B but where no-one would dream of concluding that A produces B. For example, eyeglasses affect our vision. As the lenses fog up, become scratched, perhaps warped or whatever, our vision will suffer. But then, when we take our glasses off, our vision is restored to what it was originally.

Moreover, just as there is no conceivable mechanism within eyeglasses that could produce vision, so there appears no conceivable mechanism within brains that could produce consciousness.

This damaged brains lead to damaged minds objection can only be rescued if we assume that cognitive ability, moods, memories etc are intrinsic to the soul and should never be able to be changed or altered, or attenuated. But here one would be assuming a materialist conception of personal identity and hence would be begging the question. For the substance dualist has a commonsensical conception of the self. The self is that which makes one feel one is the very same person from one hour to the next, one day to the next, and one year to the next. One’s moods might change from one hour to the next, one’s interests and even intelligence might change from one year to the next, nevertheless, it is still that person that undergoes all these changes. The I or me is the mental substance; contrariwise the moods, cognitive abilities, memories, interests and so on are the properties of the self/mental substance. These properties can change without me ceasing to exist and turning into another person.

2. Problem of embodiment

The critic of substance dualism asks: What is it for the mind to be housed in a body? What is it for a body to belong to a particular subject? The problem of embodiment, argues the critic, makes the union between mind and body mysterious.

What’s really mysterious is what this objection means or amounts to. One could retort that all change and interactions in the entire Universe are equally mysterious. The facts of the Universe are just given and physics merely describes change using mathematical equations. Likewise, it is a fact that my consciousness affects my body as is exemplified by the words that I am typing out now. Although we don’t have the mathematical equations describing such interactions, I don’t see any reason why they should not eventually be forthcoming.

3. Problem of the physical conception of human beings

There is the argument from the physical conception of human beings at the beginning of life. According to this objection, no one views fertilized ova as having minds; rather, these are purely physical entities. But if human beings began as wholly physical beings and nothing non-physical was later added, then they are still wholly physical creatures and substance dualism must be false.

Why on earth would the critic of dualism assume nothing non-material would be added? How can we be conscious at all if nothing is added?

4. Problem of Interaction 

Interactionism on substance dualism maintains that the mind and body causally influence each other. But some philosophers argue that this causes problems: if, on substance dualism, the mental substance is so radically distinct from the physical substance (the mental is, unlike the physical, immaterial, unextended, and therefore has no size, shape, location, mass, motion, or solidity), then they lack commonality necessary for interaction. 

I suggest that the people who voice this objection have a certain view of reality where only certain types of regularity are permitted; namely a mechanistic view of reality where all changes are captured by such contiguous physical chains of causes and effects. Essentially, they hold the view that A influences B because there is some innate power in the world that travels from A to B and necessitates change in B.

But, why must reality be limited to such regularities? Why must causes be contiguous? What permits us to a priori rule out a reality that admits influences from consciousness, or indeed even mystical principles, or magic and so on? Note that in saying causes may not need to be contiguous, we are not contradicting any physical laws. Rather, we are contradicting the mechanistic view of reality, which at best is a presupposition of science, or at least it was a presupposition of science back in the 17th and 18th Centuries. Physics simply tries to model reality based on observations in the past to predict events in the future. We call these regularities physical laws. I do not believe we can impose a priori constraints on the patterns we find there, that is we cannot say reality must conform to contiguous causes. Empirical investigation should guide our beliefs rather than a priori presuppositions. Should we dismiss the phenomenon of entanglement because it contravenes such assumptions? And, if we don't, then the alleged universality of contiguous physical causes and effects is refuted. Where one exception is found, we can surely not be surprised if we find others.

5. Argument from evolution

Churchland says:

The important point about the standard evolutionary story is that the human species and all of its features are the wholly physical outcome of a purely physical process… If this is the correct account of our origins, then there seems neither need, nor room, to fit any nonphysical substances or properties into our theoretical account of ourselves. We are creatures of matter. And we should learn to live with that fact.

The evolution story is supposed to explain the origin of our bodies and why our bodies have the characteristics they do. It only accounts for the arrival of consciousness should one assume that consciousness is literally part of the body, or in other words, if one assumes materialism upfront. But, as I have argued elsewhere, materialism is fatally problematic. Apart from that, we have yet again, a clear case of question begging.

Indeed, in order for evolution to account for consciousness, consciousness has to actually do something. But the mainstream view is that the physical world is closed, hence our consciousness is causally superfluous.

(Also see my A Causal Consciousness, Free Will, and Dualism, under the heading "Various Objections")

1 comment:

  1. Yeah, I've never understood any of these objections to dualism. They all seem question-begging.

    But the one that makes the least sense to me is the supposed "interaction problem". I mean, once we allow that souls exist, is interaction between two different "substances" really a stretch? We don't really even understand physical-physical causation, but we're going to rule out physical-nonphysical (and vice versa) causation? Why? I've never come across a satisfactory explanation for this, aside from the completely unproven assumption of causal closure.


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